Language & Communication13th August 2014

An Interview with Elizabeth Bojas - Regional Teacher of the Year

Nominated by her students Elizabeth is humbled by the award and shares her love of BSL

by Sarah Lawrence

A Leeds teacher who says she “came out of the womb signing” has won an award as 2014 regional teacher of the year for Yorkshire and the Humber for her work teaching BSL. Elizabeth Bojas was nominated for the award by her own students and says that she was humbled when she first heard about the award, adding, “I teach because I love to teach and it is extremely rewarding to see my students achieve their goals. To gain recognition for this was unexpected and it still hasn’t sunk in yet!”

Born in Wales as part of a deaf family, Elizabeth says that education is in her blood as one of five family members who are teachers. Taking Media Studies among her ‘A’ levels prompted her to explore working in that field. “It began with a role as Researcher for a Deaf Station at the Bristol University for Deaf Studies”, she explains, “and has led to various opportunities as an In-Vision Presenter, including a stint presenting for The Hub.”

She says, however, that teaching is her true passion. “I worked for Leeds City Council as a Deaf Instructor for eight years, working with Deaf Children in mainstream education and promoting inclusion. I also worked closely with families and took on various teaching roles.” With an NVQ level 4 in BSL and a PGCE qualification in teaching, Elizabeth now runs her own company, Reflect British Sign Language. Perhaps the biggest advert for her love of BSL comes in these two videos in which Elizabeth is chatting to her two little boys. I am sure you will agree, they are an advert to all policy makers about why access to good quality BSL tuition can be a life changer.

As part of a deaf family, BSL is Elizabeth’s first language, “My parents took me to the local Deaf club from a very young age. It meant I was exposed to a variety of generations; young and old. I grew up listening to stories and I was like a sponge, soaking everything up; watching how people communicated and gaining a true education within the Deaf community.” And she has no doubts about the benefits to a deaf child of learning the language, saying “One of the obvious benefits is a reduction in the frustration they feel at being unable to communicate. Exposure to BSL gives a Deaf child emotional and psychological stability because they are able to fully express themselves.”

She also believes that learning the language at an early age can broaden the ways in which a deaf person can communicate later on, as she explains, “In order for a child’s language to develop they must first have a foundation, so if a Deaf child has the ability to express themselves through BSL, they can build on this foundation and start to relate information to the world around them. Until around the age of seven children absorb information at an alarming rate, so exposing them early is key. This will allow them to choose their own path.”

Elizabeth says her students these days come from all walks of life with the only common thread being an interest in the language. Whilst she acknowledges that language acquisition becomes more difficult as we get older she says anyone can learn BSL if they are really interested in it, adding, “The best students are the ones who will immerse themselves in the language in order to develop; they are passionate about learning and are not afraid to get things wrong. The students who find it difficult are the ones who feel self-conscious about practising in front of others and are afraid to make mistakes.”

Believing that BSL fails to get the recognition it deserves within the wider community, Elizabeth says, “ I don’t think people understand the complexity, or the beauty of the language, and the impact it could have on the educational system. It is a rich, visual language and many do not appreciate that.”

Indeed, she would like to see it form part of the mainstream school syllabus, arguing, “Sign language is a British language and is culturally rich. In addition to foreign languages, I would really like to see British Sign Language taught in school. I would like it to become the ‘norm’, to gain acceptance. This is the only way we can reduce barriers and hopefully, one day, achieve true recognition of this beautiful and rich language.”

Until that day comes, Elizabeth would encourage anyone who has an interest in BSL to learn it, adding, “You won’t learn the language overnight, but if you practice as often as possible, learning can be a lot of fun!”

Her advice to the parents of deaf children is to give their youngsters the choice that comes with learning BSL, “We all want the best for our child and we don’t always know what communication method will work for them. Maybe BSL will help, maybe it won’t, but you have nothing to lose by trying. If taught early enough, language acquisition can help with a variety of stages in a child’s life. So even if they don’t use this knowledge right away, it may come in useful at a later date.”

As for her own success in teaching the language, Elizabeth says, “I’d like to think I won because my students respond to my passion, and appreciate the dedication I put into the classes. I also hope it’s because I provide a fun learning environment and that my students see me as supportive.”

Elizabeth will receive her award at a ceremony in Durham Cathedral in October.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Language & Communication

13th August 2014